Remember, Remember, The 5th of November……

Bonfire night is still a few weeks away, yet each year, it seems that the fireworks start earlier and earlier, and so pet owners should start preparing for this potential disruption now.

Animals have highly specialised auditory apparatus, essential for the detection of potential threats, meaning their hearing is extremely sensitive. Loud and sudden noises such as fireworks, therefore often trigger a fear response, which in some animals can lead to serious noise phobias, impacting on the individual’s wellbeing.

A safe hiding place or den should be available and accessible to pets throughout the firework season, which can unfortunately linger on through to the New Year! For dogs, a crate or box covered in a thick layer of blankets can be placed in a quiet but accessible area away from windows and doors, in an area the dog usually likes to go to escape to. Cats can be provided with a sound-proofed box with bedding in an open wardrobe or cupboard, or even an area under a bed. Lets not forget our small pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs – they should have darkened sound-proofed sleeping areas or cages, and if kept outside, covering with a duvet under a waterproof membrane, or bales of hay or straw will help to muffle loud noises.

Pheromone therapy is the use of synthetic species-specific pheromones in a diffuser or spray format, which are available at the surgery for both dogs and cats. These mimic the natural pheromones produced by our pets, for example, when they rub their faces and bodies on items of furniture and walls, leaving chemical messages associated with safety and security, helping to calm and relax the animal. Herbal nutraceuticals are also available that can be fed to dogs and cats, which again help to calm them, without having the sedative or tranquilising effects associated with some of the prescription medications commonly used in the past. Pet Remedy is a non-species-specific natural product of essential oils, used to promote calming of all species in stressful situations, and is available as a plug-in diffuser, spray and wipes.

Tips for noise-phobia management during fireworks season:
  • Ensure the den is in place and being used, along with pheromones, food, water and litter trays (for cats) located close by, at least 2 weeks before the fireworks start
  • Ignore fireworks noises and remain calm as pets can pick up on your stress
  • Never punish animals for reacting to the fireworks as this may unduly emphasize their behavioural response – ignore unwanted behaviour and just be there to provide company
  • Provide distractions such as chews, toys, and puzzle feeders that can be stuffed with treats, keeping pets occupied for extended periods of time
  • Use background noise such as the TV or radio and draw the curtains at dusk to help muffle external sounds and disguise fireworks flashes
  • If your pet shows signs of recovery and improvement of fears (such as leaving the den), quietly and gently reward them with a treat or game!
  • If your pet shows signs of recovery and improvement of fears (such as leaving the den), quietly and gently reward them with a treat or game!
  • Walk dogs before dusk, and keep on a lead if there is a chance of fireworks, to avoid bolting if there are sudden noises
  • Keep cats in at night and lock the cat flap
  • Ensure pets are microchipped and that your contact details are up-to-date with the relevant microchip database, should a pet run off if startled

For pets that suffer with sound phobias, a long-term solution should be sought to address future problems becoming out of control, causing impact and suffering to your pet’s well-being.

Sound de-sensitisation programmes using commercially available CDs should be commenced several months before fireworks season, at a time when similar noises are unlikely to happen – April is a good time. Dedication and commitment from owners are required, and such techniques should be adopted following veterinary advice to avoid inadvertently increasing phobias by incorrect management. For severe phobias, counter-conditioning programmes designed by a Certified Animal Behaviourist may be advised.

For further advice on noise and fireworks phobias, please contact the surgery on 01325 380111.